On Tuesday morning, the Utah Legislature took the action of suspending UtahPolicy.com Contributing Editor Bob Bernick’s media credential.
The suspension was handed down with no prior warning, and Bernick was not allowed to plead his case to either the Utah House or Utah Senate prior to the action. UtahPolicy.com was told Tuesday morning that Bernick’s credential was suspended because he entered a secure area during a visit by Sen. Mitt Romney to the Utah State Capitol on Wednesday of last week.
Here are the details of the incident in question from Bernick.
On Wednesday of last week, Bernick entered the north hallway outside the House chamber in an effort to ask questions of Sen. Romney, who was meeting with Senate and House leadership. Bernick says he was told by House Deputy Chief of Staff Jon Ammons to vacate the hallway as they were closing it down for “security reasons.”
Bernick said he had a right to be in that hallway, as it is routinely open to members of the press prior to House floor time. Bernick says he told Ammons to “get the Highway Patrol” as he felt it would buy him some time to get footage of Romney on his cell phone and ask questions following Romney’s historic vote to impeach Pres. Donald Trump.
Bernick then entered the House Majority Caucus Room, which is off the north hallway, as he determined Romney would pass through that area.
As you can see in the video posted below, Bernick asked a question of Romney, who continued through the area without answering. As Romney was leaving, a Utah Highway Patrol member told Bernick he was not allowed to be in the area. Bernick then left the room.
Initially, UtahPolicy.com was told by House staff that Bernick was suspended for accessing the caucus room through a kitchenette area that is restricted to media and behind an electronic lock. After being informed that Bernick categorically denied accessing that restricted area, House staff revised their version of events to indicate that Bernick accessed the area through a door routinely used by the press and public to enter the majority caucus room.
House staff claims the door to the caucus room was locked. Bernick said it wasn’t.
UtahPolicy.com has submitted a records request for video of the incident captured on legislative security cameras as well as a copy of the UHP trooper’s report.
Aundrea Peterson, Director of Communications for the Utah Senate, sent UtahPolicy.com the following statement about the suspension.
“Today, the media credential for Bob Bernick was suspended for one week for entering a secure area of the Capitol without permission. This decision was based upon a report from Utah Highway Patrol, eyewitness and video. Bernick is still allowed access to all public areas the Capitol, including all committee meetings and galleries. We respect members of the media and their role. Though for everyone's safety, the public, as well as credentialed media, need to abide by the rules and policies.”
UtahPolicy.com Publisher LaVarr Webb said, “I’m disappointed that Bernick didn’t even get a chance to tell his side of the story before his credential was jerked. The Legislature isn’t a court of law, obviously, where due process is sacred. But essentially all entities of state, local and federal governments at least give an accused person an opportunity to respond before levying a penalty. No one in any real leadership position even talked to him. I’ve been told he might have been “rude.” I can believe that, because he’s sometimes rude to me (I say affectionately). Bernick is the dean of Utah political reporters, having covered the Legislature for more than 40 years. He was doing what reporters do – going after a story.”